Join guest blogger, Amy Zamarripa Solis as she celebrates Sharon Dodua Otoo in our series of 100 Pioneering Women of Sussex.
Sharon Dodua Otoo is a Ghanaian-British mother, activist and author. Former Brightonian, she is now based in Berlin.
In 2016, Sharon became the first non-native German speaker to win the prestigious €25,000 Ingeborg Bachmann prize with her short story Herr Gröttrup Sits Down, about the rocket scientist who worked for the Nazis, then the USSR.
Her prize-winning short story “Herr Gröttrup setzte sich hin” (“Herr Gröttrup sits down”) tells the the story of engineer and V2 rocket-scientist Helmut Gröttrup and his wife Irmgard sitting down to breakfast. Herr Gröttrup’s breakfast egg and its narration rebels against the orderly household by remaining soft despite being boiled for the regulation seven and a half minutes. And so commences a story hailed for its ‘changeling’ character, gentle satire and humour.
Sharon entered the the competition by chance, on invitation by Frankfurter Allgemeine editor Sandra Kegel, unaware of the prize’s significance in the German-speaking world. “That was probably a good idea, otherwise I wouldn’t have submitted anything.”
Sharon was born in Ilford, London to parents from Ghana. In 1992, she worked for a year as an au pair in Hanover, Germany and developed an interest in the German language. Sharon studied German and Management Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London and graduated with a BA (Hons) in 1997.
Until 2006, Sharon lived in Brighton, bringing up her children and valued member of the local diverse community. She was an active member of MOSAIC Black and Mixed Parentage Family Charity and organiser of Black History Month, amongst other things.
Sharon’s first novella the things i am thinking while smiling politely (edition assemblage, 2012, German translation in 2013) tells the story of the decline and break up of a marriage as well as the consequences for close family and friends. It also explores the Black experience in Berlin, from the subtle micro-aggressions present in daily life to the institutional and relationship oppressions.
Her novella Synchronicity (edition assemblage, German, 2014/English 2015) tells the story of a woman who loses her colours one December….one colour at a time.
Sharon is editor for book series Witnessed, part of publishing collective, edition assemblage. She has published numerous politically engaged articles on the subjects of culture, diversity and feminism.
As an activist Sharon has been involved with the Initiative for Black People in Germany (Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (ISD-Bund). Since 2014 she has worked as a project coordinator for Regionale Arbeitsstelle Berlin, an organisation that furthers the social integration and development of children of immigrant families from their early schooling up to professional training
In a 2016 Guardian interview she explained: “Politics can be very polarising and confrontational. With my writing, I would like to say: we can go out and demonstrate, but at the end of the day, all we all want is to be understood and be treated with empathy.”
Sharon’s next novel is due out in 2021.
Written by Amy Zamarripa Solis
Amy Zamarripa Solis is a producer, writer and artist from Austin, Texas. She is Director of This Too Is Real, an arts production and management company, specialising in arts, culture, heritage and diversity. She also runs Writing Our Legacy, a literature organisation set up in 2012, focused on supporting Black and ethnic minority writers and writing in Sussex and South East of England. Her latest projects include Constructed Geographies, a touring exhibition of Sussex visual artists (2018-19), Hidden Sussex anthology (Writing Our Legacy, 2019) and No Place Like Home, an exploration into childhood home and its loss, starting with her own Mexican-American community in Austin Texas, ¡La Cultura No Se Vende! (Our Culture is Not For Sale!), told through short stories, film and archive material. She is Co-Chair of Disability Arts Online and on the Boards of AudioActive and New Writing South.
Writing Our Legacy is an organisation whose aim is to raise awareness of the contributions of Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) writers, poets, playwrights and authors born, living or connected to Sussex and the South East. We employ Mosaic charity’s definition of Black to be ‘Black people’ and ‘mixed-parentage people’ including all those people whose ancestral origins are African, Asian, Caribbean, Chinese, Middle Eastern, North African, Romany, the indigenous peoples of the South Pacific islands, the American continents, Australia and New Zealand. We run events across Sussex and the South East that showcase emerging and established BME writers and provide professional development and networking opportunities.